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Tillerson: I have ‘never’ considered resigning

The secretary of state does not, however, explicitly deny that he called Trump a ‘moron,’ as NBC reported.

Updated

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that he has never considered resigning his position, disputing an NBC News report that he was on the verge of such a move over the summer.

“The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post,” Tillerson said during a hastily scheduled news conference at the State Department.

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Tillerson did not directly address whether he had called Trump a “moron,” as NBC reported. “We don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense,” he said when asked about the report.

“Let me tell you what I have learned about this president, whom I did not know before taking this office: He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first,” the secretary of state and former ExxonMobil CEO said. “He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes and he holds those around him accountable for whether they’ve done the job he’s asked them to do.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later said at a press briefing that she had spoken to Tillerson about the “moron” remark and that “the secretary does not use that type of language. The secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States. He does not use that language to speak about anyone.”

Nauert also said that the two men had a “good conversation” following Tillerson’s remarks and that the secretary had said he and Trump are “all good.”

Shortly after Tillerson’s statement, Trump tweeted that, “The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence,” even though the secretary of state had not denied calling the president a “moron.” “It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!” Trump wrote.

NBC News reported Wednesday that Tillerson had referred to Trump as a “moron” after a meeting at the Pentagon last July with members of the president’s national security team. Citing multiple unnamed sources, the network reported that the secretary of state was close to resigning in the wake of the president’s controversial, political speech at a Boy Scouts of America jamboree and only remained in his job after discussions with Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials.

Trump has butted heads at times with his top diplomat, most recently last weekend on Twitter, where the president appeared to undercut Tillerson, who had said a day earlier that the U.S. was in direct communication with North Korea in an effort to reduce tensions over its nuclear ambitions. “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Despite the back-and-forth between Trump and Tillerson, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this week that the president retained confidence in his secretary of state. She repeated that view on Wednesday.

Nick Ayers is pictured. | Getty

“As we’ve said many times before, if the president doesn’t have confidence in somebody, they will no longer be in their position,” Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump headed to Las Vegas.

Tillerson has appeared to break ranks with the president at other critical moments. Last August, he told “Fox News Sunday” that “the president speaks for himself” when asked about Trump’s equivocating response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

R.C. Hammond, Tillerson’s spokesman, issued his own clean-up of sorts on Wednesday morning, tweeting that he “spoke out of line” when he told NBC about conversations regarding U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who is rumored to be a replacement for Tillerson.

Hammond had told NBC that Pence had asked Tillerson “if he thought Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was helpful to the administration, or if he was worried about the role she was playing.”

“Regarding the NBC News report: I spoke out of line about conversations I wasn’t privy to,” Hammond tweeted on Wednesday. “I should’ve given more complete info or none at all regarding the positive role Amb. Haley plays in the Admin.”

Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for Pence, also issued a statement, denying that the vice president had talked with Tillerson about potentially leaving or that Pence had questioned Haley’s role.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on reporting

“The Vice President can also confirm that, as the Secretary of State made clear, at no time did he and the Secretary ever discuss the prospect of the Secretary’s resignation from the administration. Any reporting to the contrary is categorically false,” Agen said. “In addition, any statements that the Vice President questioned Ambassador Nikki Haley’s value to the Trump Administration is also categorically false. The Vice President has known Ambassador Nikki Haley for many years, holds her in the highest regard, and appreciates her strong service to this administration at The United Nations.”

Tillerson, a political newcomer who faced one of the most contentious Senate confirmation hearings in recent history, has said in the past that he was hesitant to accept the position of secretary of state and had been looking forward to retirement before it was offered.

“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” Tillerson told IJR last March. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

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